Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster ever happened earlier in 2013 when a factory building collapse on 24 April that killed at least 600 workers near the capital. One government explanation for the accident is that shoddy construction combined with vibrations from inappropriately placed heavy machinery brought down the eight-story building, known as Rana Plaza, filled with hundreds of textile workers.
An early damage assessment (still unpublished) by NGO Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) conducted on the day of the collapse revealed how a building intended for retail merchants was being used for industrial purposes. It housed five garment factories that employed at least 3,000 workers and placed weight on the floors (including four huge electrical generators on the third and fourth floors) almost six times greater than the building was intended to bear. Support columns were erected haphazardly. Building materials and methods were below par.
Legislation from the 1950s gave the Ministry of Housing and Public Works authority to regulate town planning, while a 2009 Municipality Act transferred that power to local governments. Since then each of the capital's five municipalities, including Savar, the site of the industrial accident 30 km outside Dhaka has handled its own planning.
The building collapse highlighted the dangers of unplanned development. According to the 20-year Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan, effective until 2015, extra attention was to be paid to construction in Savar due to three fault lines that pass through the municipality, making it the most severe earthquake zone nationwide.
Meanwhile, the Urban Development Directorate, part of the Housing Ministry, is seeking government approval to draft a national urbanization plan up to 2021 which would centralize planning power in the Housing Ministry once again. The country's Garment Manufacturers' and Exporters' Association has asked garment factories in the capital to submit structural drawings, while the labor and employment minister is heading another committee to investigate factories outside the capital. As of 2011, there were some 5,100 garment factories nationwide employing 3.6 million people, according to the trade organization.
The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology is supposed to conduct risk assessments to find the most vulnerable buildings in the capital. Halfway completed is a visual seismic assessment by the government's Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme of some 400,000 buildings, also in the capital area. Altogether, there are some 1.26 million residential and commercial structures there, according to the Capital Development Authority.
But Dhaka's development authority chairman assures that efforts to change have been under way. Since 2010, the request for more engineers and architects has gone through six departments in three ministries for approval. The hope is to be able to recruit more experts soon.